South Korea’s Park Inbee edged out defending champion and tournament leader Choi Na-yeon in a thrilling final day yesterday at the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia to win with a 15-under 269.
The world No. 6 kept her cool to become the third South Korean to win the tournament in as many years when she closed out with a four-under 67, defeating compatriot and friend Choi by two strokes overall.
World No. 4 Choi, who led from the opening day, could only finish with a level-par 71, conceding the title of the US$1.9 million competition at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club to Park.
Park, who had slowly but surely been closing the gap on Choi, finally took the lead on the par-four 13th when she had a tap-in for a birdie while Choi could only par.
Less than 15 minutes later that one-point lead became two, when Park’s irons came perfectly into play to set up another tap-in for a birdie.
“I wasn’t nervous until about the 15th. It was an embarrassing bogey-bogey finish,” Park said. “I prefer leading because I knew whatever it was, I had to play well.”
Down by two, Choi knew her chance of defending a title for the first time in her career was over on the par-five 16th hole.
Park made a hash of her approach shot and needed two attempts to get out of the bunker, but she then brilliantly made par from off the green.
Choi, who had a chance for a birdie, fluffed her lines and failed to put pressure on her compatriot, leaving her two behind going into the final two holes.
On the 17th hole, Park increased her lead to three after Choi crumbled and double-bogeyed the 17th, despite Park also bogeying the treacherous par-three.
On the final hole, Park had a horrendous tee shot, but salvaged a bogey to claim the top prize.
It was her mastery of the back nine that helped Park — who was born in Seoul but educated in the US — seal victory.
She collected a total of 15 birdies on the last half of the course over four days to follow Choi and Kang Ji-min as winners of this tournament.
Choi said she was disappointed, but “happy for my friend to win this week.”
“She was playing well, and I think she got nervous on the last two holes. I played well in the front nine, but I had one bogey on the ninth,” Choi said.
“I wasn’t mad after that bogey, but I think if I made par I could have had a chance to put pressure on Park ... I had bad luck on the 17th as well” where she made a double bogey, she added.
Veteran Australian Karrie Webb finished third on 272, while a charging Catriona Matthew of Scotland was fourth, a stroke back.
A third South Korean, Ryu So-yeon, placed fifth.
World No. 2 Stacy Lewis of US put up a three-under 68 for a share of 19th spot on four-under 280.
Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn was the best amateur, finishing tied for ninth on a seven-under 277 with Taiwan’s Candie Kung, who carded a 65.
Taiwan’s Yani Tseng shot a 71 to finish on five-over 289, while her amateur compatriot Cheng Ssu-chia was two shots further back.
The LPGA Tour continues its Asian swing with the HanaBank Championship scheduled for this weekend in South Korea, followed by stops in Taiwan and Japan.
Additional reporting by staff writer